We all desire to be loved. To have someone look at us like we are the best thing to happen in their life after sliced bread. To take those corny pictures that are being shared on social media under the hashtag, couple goals. To dress up like you are in the choir with matching outfits that you will burn after a breakup. To take screenshots of your long phone calls and post on your social media with the caption favourite. However, luck may not always be on your side yet. The universe may not have aligned in our favour yet. Sometimes you can love someone but they do not feel the same about you. You might be deep in the friend zone or you simply do not exist on your love interest’s radar.

Other times, you simply go through hell to sustain a relationship that is possibly very toxic. Why? Because you are afraid to be alone. You are afraid of what other people might say about you as a woman. The ugly names you shall be called? You are scared of raising that child as a single mother. Your aunts will say you can’t keep a man. You are a marriage misfit, you are untamed. You are afraid to start over, to give love a second chance and you are scared you will never meet someone else.

Other times, you simply go through hell to sustain a relationship that is possibly very toxic.

So what do you do? You accept the breadcrumbs from your toxic lover. You go on dates and spend time together. Then he stops talking to you for weeks on end and you convince yourself that he is simply busy. Soon after, he calls you again and lavishes you with praises and sweet nothings. The relationship does not have a future. You can never fully comprehend if you are dating or mark timing for the relationship to end. You can’t tell if this is something you want or if you should leave and do better.

I interviewed a lovely lady, Kitten* (not her real name) who was willing to share her story on breadcrumbing to encourage other women to know their worth and when it is time to walk away.

What is breadcrumbing?

This is where a partner shows interest only when they notice you are losing interest to keep you hooked in the relationship. They simply throw in crumbs here and there to keep you interested with not much effort whatsoever. The breadcrumber usually has more power in the relationship than their victims. They dictate when you meet, how many times you talk on the phone and sometimes where you meet and the activities they feel you should be involved in. Be aware that sometimes these power dynamics may culminate into abuse. Mostly emotional abuse but sometimes, it can get violent. You need to be vigilant in your relationship and be on the lookout for signs of abuse.
In my situation, the relationship never quite got physically abusive but the emotional abuse felt rather real. I just didn’t have a name for what I was going through at the time nor a name for how I was feeling. I made excuses for him to friends and family and claimed I loved him. I told them no relationship is perfect and that he can change.

What were the dynamics?

I was constantly feeling low and covering it with smiles. I would ask myself am I not enough, is this the best I can get? What can I do to make him like me more? If he texted me, I would be excited and even entertain a slither of hope that we were heading in the right direction. When he didn’t call or text for weeks, I would tell my friends that he was just busy and would be back. This feeling was intensified further by the loneliness that reared its ugly face since I lived quite a distance from my friends and towns apart from my family. I tried to advance the relationship several times by suggesting the need for a commitment. I suggested at least meeting the families since we had been together from campus and we were almost three years into the relationship. I tried to show my support for his work, I was emotionally invested and even went the extra mile to show physical affection. Besides my anxiety, I tried to come up with creative ways for us to spend time together and create new memories and he would say no, he is busy. Rejection after rejection made me feel hurt even more since I seemed to be always available to answer to every qualm he had. I was starting to feel like the proverbial beggar that was waiting for the breadcrumbs from the king’s table to fall so that he could eat. In all these, I didn’t feel like he was the problem. I blamed myself fully. I wanted to know what I could do to make him reciprocate. Should I change my dressing, should I start wearing makeup? Is it my hair? Am I too skinny? Is it remotely possible that I could be fat? I was not about to accept defeat lying down. I needed to do better.

I tried to advance the relationship several times by suggesting the need for a commitment.

What did those around you think?

They loathed him. They wanted me to leave him. They didn’t see what I saw in him. They told me the guy was using me to pass time until he meets someone he wants to commit to. They told me the relationship was so toxic like hell. But I would tell them he said sorry and when he says sorry he is sorry. They did not push too hard. They hoped that I would learn my lesson and hopefully, it would not crush me. I cried so much in the course of our relationship. This relationship made me unhappy but I had hope that he would change. We all deserve second chances, don´t we? However, one day, I decided I could not take it anymore and thought we could have a discussion and streamline things.

How did the discussion go?

Horribly! I went into full attack mode. I wanted to know why he treated me like crap. Why was he unwilling to fully commit to this relationship? He simply said, he was not at par with me emotionally and that he was sorry and it was not intentional. Additionally, he didn’t want to lose me. I was perturbed but I was a little giddy that he didn’t want to lose me. Should I leave or should I stay? However, I don’t give up easily. I was determined to explain to him how his breadcrumbing made me feel. We had a back and forth and he finally admitted he was not ready for a committed relationship and that he was hoping I felt the same way. According to him, why ruin a perfectly good thing by including rules and regulations. I could not believe it. I was dating myself all along. I was devastated. I was hoping it was a dream but the guy looked dead serious.

Was it the wake-up call you needed?

It was. I knew I had to take the power back. It seemed he still wanted to string me along and I was not up for it. I called it quits there and then and held my tears until I got to a friend’s house where I broke down. A few days and several boxes of pizza later, I was feeling much better. I was happier and more relaxed. The anxiety reduced as my loved ones encouraged me that it gets better with time. I had to enrol in therapy to help me work through the issues. It sounds like a flimsy thing to get a whole psychologist involved but some of our fears and how we attach to people stems from somewhere. I needed help to avoid going through the same thing in future. Granted it was not the end of the world or the worst thing to ever happen to someone but it was bad enough to make me evaluate how much I value myself.

The anxiety reduced as my loved ones encouraged me that it gets better with time.

What lessons did you learn from your breadcrumbing experience?

That I have to stop making excuses for bad behaviour. Someone who loves you will always have time and energy for you. Someone not talking to you for weeks on end is not normal and is very unacceptable unless you have chosen to be that person´s casual fling. A bread crumber may not recognise what they are doing but as a woman, learn to know your worth. Remember that people treat you how you allow them to treat you. Learn to walk away from relationships that make you feel confused and unhappy. Most people who accept breadcrumbing may be suffering from abandonment issues or have an insecure attachment style. They are happy to be in a relationship, even a dysfunctional one just to avoid being alone. To ladies, you deserve the full loaf, you are worth so much more than the breadcrumbs. Understand the phenomenon and do not ignore the signs of breadcrumbing. Ask questions and do not accept to be taken round in circles. Talk about your expectations and make them clear from the onset of the relationship. Learn to say no to a relationship that does not suit you. You will be more fulfilled when you are with someone that makes you feel wanted, needed, important and respected.